Parents asked the Rutherford County School Board to take religious instruction out of school curriculum Thursday at the regular board meeting.
Seven members of the community addressed the board, and about 30 more attended in apparent support of their concerns. The parents said a history teacher had assigned students projects dealing with the Islamic religion as part of a history unit on the Middle East.
"How can you assure us that our children won't have to study Islamic religion?" asked parentPam Keene. She added that the assignments seem to be trying to convert the students rather than just inform them about the culture.
'No God but Allah'
Another parent read the list of assignments which included making a poster of the basic tenet of Islamic belief, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," and also a report explaining the Five Pillars of Islam - among others.
Scott Cosima said that if Islamic religion were taught in public schools, then each other major religion - including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, for example - would need to be given equal time.
Jackie Archer has reviewed the Common Core and state-approved textbooks, she said, and she found that the legislature is pushing to replace social science texts two years early because of parental protests about this issue.
"Other counties are also protesting and want to replace textbooks," Archer said.
Rutherford Director of Schools Don Odom told the group that he and the board understand their concerns, but pointed out that textbooks are no longer chosen by the board or a local textbook committee.
"We have concerns, too, but religion has such an impact on history," he said. "But it should be presented in a way that doesn't proselytize."
Odom recommended that they all go online and express their concerns on the State Department of Education website.
The board also heard a report from Director of Secondary Education Andrea Anthony about what her office will be doing to help raise ACT scores in the county schools.
She explained that students who take more advanced language, math, social studies or science classes can improve their ACT scores by three to five points in many cases.
Anthony added that Advanced Placement, RTI tutoring and dual enrollment classes also help.
'Take tougher classes'
She said students and parents need to understand that taking easier classes to maintain higher grades may get the student a Hope Scholarship, but so will a score of 21 on the ACT - and those students with the higher ACT score are more likely to keep the scholarship and stay in college than those who get it based on high grades in easier classes.
Board Chair Wayne Blair said he thinks that changing parents' attitudes will be the biggest challenge.
Due to Election Day falling on Aug. 4, 2016, the board also voted to shift school registration to Aug. 5.
Plus, Smyrna High School received board approval to locate a pre-built 10-foot-by-20-foot metal storage building, which will also serve as a concession stand, on the side of the school soccer field. The building will be funded by a grant from the Richard Siegel Foundation.
$3.8 mil plan approved
The board also approved its revised capital improvement plan for the current school year with a total of $3.8 million in costs.
The biggest part of that amount - $2,335,135, or over $2.3 million - will be spent to re-roof six buildings: Barfield Elementary, Christiana Elementary, LaVergne Primary School, Siegel Middle School, Smyrna Middle School Annex and the Central Office.
Smyrna Elementary, LaVergne Middle School, and Blackman Middle and Elementary schools will be getting chiller replacements for a total cost of $520,166.
Another $322,541 will be spent for paving, sealing, and re-striping parking areas at eight schools. The rest of the funds will cover bleacher repairs, window replacement, recoating the running track at LaVergne High School and completing projects left over from last year.
The Technology Department received approval from the board to purchase $150,313 worth of upgrades to deal with the growing need for computer access due to online testing. The purchase will be paid for from a technology fund to upgrade for testing that the board had previously approved in its annual budget.